A huge variety of laws taking effect this month seek to make life in California more just, fair and less punitive.
They range from removing some mandatory sentencing minimums (Senate Bill 73) to extending remote civil hearings (SB 241) and conducting a court pilot program in San Francisco testing whether paying low- and middle-income jurors more, $100 instead of $15 per day, will secure more diverse juries in criminal cases (Assembly Bill 1452).
Some statewide changes drew strong local response, particularly one of three housing reform bills, SB 9, which has generated such strong opposition from Los Altos Hills that the town made headlines for its ongoing efforts to reassert local control over single-family zoning restrictions.
Local representatives advanced several high-profile new laws, including State Sen. Josh Becker, who in his first year representing the 13th Senate District authored seven bills that went into effect this week. His SB 775, an equitable sentencing initiative, adds to a previous landmark law limiting how someone involved in a serious felony who does not directly participate in a murder – such as a getaway driver – can be held responsible for a victim’s death. SB 775 expands beyond limiting first-degree murder charges to provide sentencing relief for accomplices who were convicted of lesser crimes, such as attempted murder or manslaughter, and allows those in prison to be resentenced.
“We want to make sure there are consequences for people who commit offenses,” Becker said in an interview this week. “At the same time, we want to be smart about it and make sure we’re not locking people up for much longer than is helpful for society.”
He contrasted California’s prison population – 30,000 people serving life sentences, approximately 30% of its total inmate population – with other states that have substantially fewer people serving life sentences.
In addition to penning new laws, Becker also worked to secure regional funding for local initiatives over the past year, including $8 million for a 200-unit affordable housing project planned to rise on one of the city’s parking lots in downtown Mountain View.
Becker’s SB 503, which aims to make signature verification on postal ballots more effective and consistent, complements a new bill from Assemblymember Marc Berman, who serves the 24th District that includes Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. Berman authored 10 new laws last year, notably AB 37, which made California a permanent vote-by-mail state beginning this week. His bill ensures that every active registered voter receives a mail-in ballot, and makes permanent the requirement that counties give every voter the opportunity to track their ballot as it moves through the mail system and as elections officials process it. The bill included some devil-in-the-details specifics as well, allowing counties to begin processing postal ballots earlier, extending the deadline for ballot receipt to allow for postal service delays and setting a minimum for vote-by-mail ballot drop-off locations in each jurisdiction.
Two of Berman’s bills, AB 928 and AB 1111, work to remove barriers and streamline the community college transfer process to four-year universities in California. He also secured $30 million in state funding to help ease the burden on small landscaping businesses as his AB 1346 phases out the sale of small gas-powered engines such as leaf blowers and lawn mowers – but that law doesn’t take effect until 2024.
Berman’s AB 390 makes California the first state to require businesses to notify consumers before free trials and promotional offers lasting longer than 31 days expire. Businesses also will have to notify customers before annual subscriptions automatically renew, joining only a handful of states that require the renewal reminders.
Minimum wage, compost and more
California’s new $15 minimum hourly wage for businesses with more than 25 employees ($14 for businesses with fewer) is the highest statewide standard in the U.S., though cities such as Los Altos and Mountain View passed that mark years ago.
Minimum wage in Los Altos increased from $15.65 to $16.40 Jan. 1, based on an ordinance that pins annual minimum wage increases to the Bay Area’s Consumer Price Index. The ordinance applies to adult and minor employees who work two or more hours per week.
Mountain View’s minimum wage increased to $17.10, an 80-cent bump that is also based on the regional CPI.
Local single-family homes have had access to municipal food waste pickup in their organics bins for a while now, but a statewide law effective this week (SB 1383) requires that local governments extend food waste collection to all residents and businesses, expanding access for apartment dwellers and others currently without service. And residents and businesses are required to follow through and properly separate their organics to divert them from landfills, per the new rules.
A new assembly bill includes a series of rules aiming to make the special protections for service dogs clearly distinct from emotional support dogs. AB 468 includes rules for businesses selling emotional support dogs or their swag – the vests and other gear denoting their status – requiring them to inform the buyer that support dogs don’t have the same privileges under the Americans with Disabilities Act as guide, signal or service dogs.
It also tightens rules about which professionals can write a letter identifying an emotional support animal (the letter does not confer ADA status for the animal but can be used to petition for an exemption to rental housing bans on pets). In California, anyone fraudulently representing their animal as a service dog faces misdemeanor charges punishable by fine or imprisonment.
The takeaway alcoholic beverages temporarily permitted as an emergency response to pandemic lockdowns got a new lease on life from SB 389, which extends the state’s allowance through 2026. Wine and cocktails kept permissions for decanting, mixing and packaging on-site, but per the new law beer can only be sold for off-site consumption in manufactured containers (so no fresh-pulled pints to-go from the keg).
SB 380 abbreviates a mandatory waiting period for terminally ill patients seeking aid-in-dying drugs, which had previously been so long that some people seeking to ease their deaths were unable to access the medications in time.
The compulsory 15-day wait drops to 48 hours under the new rules, which require a patient to verbally request the drugs from a doctor, with documentation, twice over the course of the two days.
Finally, a reminder for local drivers – a law that already took effect in July raises the stakes for distracted driving. Using a handheld cellphone while driving was already punishable by fine, and under AB 47 it can now add a point on your driver’s record if you get caught violating the law more than once within 36 months. This applies to talking, texting and any use of mobile phones while driving by people under age 18.